Do you suffer greatly?

I was at the book store recently, collecting a migraine book I had ordered. The book is called A Brain Wider Than the Sky. With that as its bold heading, the book store assistant hadn’t realised it was a migraine book, because she hadn’t looked closely at the subtitle (A Migraine Diary).

So when book store lady handed it over said “The title sounds interesting, what’s it about?” I said “It’s a migraine book.” Her reaction was my favourite reaction to my chronic condition I think I have ever had. She simply looked empathetic and said “Oh. Do you suffer greatly?”

This four word question was magical. It made me think. I thought not only about how much I do or do not suffer, but also about how whilst the level of suffering I feel may more or less than others,it is still a valid suffering. Because what suffering isn’t valid? So I stopped, took a micro moment to think, and answered honestly. “Yes. I really do. But I can work full time and stand here talking to you. So I’m lucky compared to some. But when they’re bad I guess I do suffer greatly.”

It was fantastic. My therapist had only recently said to me that I needed to recognise that just because I wasn’t permanently bedridden, unable to work and on benefits to survive does not mean that my migraines are not impacting on my physical and mental health profoundly. This one question asked by a stranger made me realise just how right my therapist was.

And book store lady’s response to my answer was even better. Rather than the usual platitudes about how she knows someone who gets migraines, or asking if I have tried yet another therapy, she simply said “I’m so sorry to hear that”, smiled with genuine empathy, and continued ringing up my purchase. She didn’t labour on or try to equate my experience to those of people she knew. She just acknowledged the reality of my situation.

It was a beautiful moment and will stay with me for some time.

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